It was a return to normal for dragon boat competitors across the Okanagan on Saturday, June 11, when hundreds took to Penticton’s Skaha Lake for the Interior’s first official race of 2022.
In fact, it was the first time avid paddlers in the region got a chance to race in a competitive space since 2019.
“COVID has been really tough on us because this is a team sport…sitting here and seeing all the teams again in one spot is really cool,” said Don Mulhall, the executive director of the Penticton Dragonboat Society.
Race teams from Kelowna, Vernon, Osoyoos, Penticton and Langley were among those in attendance for the 13th annual Okanagan Super Sprints and the 5th annual Seniors Sprints on Friday and Saturday at Skaha Lake.
The season-opening event welcomed nearly 600 athletes for 250-metre sprint races.
“The paddling community has been a little bit slow to get started (after COVID) because it’s such a big group you have to organize,” Mulhall said. “Some events, in Harrison Hot Springs and Salmon Arm, decided not to run just based on numbers. We felt like we had to put this on today, regardless, to get the sport some traction again.”
High winds on Saturday morning in Penticton pushed the event’s start time past 9:00 a.m. Each race consisted of three teams.
“This is competition,” Mulhall stated. “People have opportunities to race different teams. Everybody has been ranked and all races have been fairly close.”
It wasn’t just the athletes, though, that decided to spend their weekend at Skaha Lake for the festivities. Many spectators by the beach were also seen taking in all of the action.
“I think everyone has missed this,” Mulhall added. “It’s a pretty cool atmosphere and people are realizing how much they actually did miss it.”